For anyone who paid the Oilers even a fleeting amount of
attention, it was clear that 2014-2015 was actually two separate and
distinct seasons for the Oilers. There was the Eakins season and the Nelson
season. Combining the two, as many will do years from now, is to throw context
right out the window. When we look back on the year that the team had and see
that Hall had fewer than 40 points and Yak had just 33 it’s going to be seen as
a disaster. That’s not entirely fair, although the year was a disaster on the
Under Eakins the team was ultimately a little better in their
possession game at even strength. The numbers just don’t lie with this. They
were slightly ahead here, but for Eakins to get there it cost him dearly. He
was so disconnected from his team that they were effectively lost out there and
at times looked disinterested. When Nelson took over, Jordan Eberle would
be quoted saying that Eakins had them trying to up their Corsi on the power
play. I think it’s important to have prolific shot attempt differentials on the
PP. I also don’t think telling players they need a better Corsi is helpful.
Eberle looked bored during the first half of the year.
Yakupov was in a brutal scoring slump. The Nuge wasn’t as effective on the PP as
he had been in previous years. Something was wrong. Something was broken.
When Nelson took over there was an instant change in
attitude and production offensively from the club’s key players. The season is
over now and we have the chance to take a look at the final numbers. Eakins
coached the team this year from October through December 15th.
Nelson was up but had to share the bench with MacT until December 30th.
So numbers for his season began from the 30th of December until the
end of the season. I have put the players’ points per 60 minutes under both
coaches at even strength and on the power play then listed their point pace
over an 82 game season (assuming health).
Player 5v5/60 PP/60 82
Hall (Eakins) 1.65 3.46 59
Hall (Nelson) 2.18 1.19 61
Eberle (Eakins) 1.82 2.90 49
Eberle (Nelson) 2.22 7.92 77
RNH (Eakins) 1.97 2.16 54
RNH (Nelson) 1.72 6.12 64
Yak (Eakins) 0.93 1.92 21
Yak (Nelson) 1.48 6.01 46
Schultz (Eakins) 0.92 2.05 30
Schultz (Nelson) 0.48 4.02 29
Purcell (Eakins) 1.23 4.59 37
Purcell (Nelson) 0.96 3.56 30
Pouliot (Eakins) 2.19 0.00 33
Pouliot (Nelson) 1.89 6.34 56
Numbers courtesy War-on-Ice.com
This represents the top six forwards and the only defenseman
expected to score. Klefbom could have been used but he only had 10 games with
Eakins this season and I didn’t think it was fair to include a rookie in this because
we expect them to get better as the season progresses a bit anyway.
On the whole we see a marked improvement in scoring numbers
under Todd Nelson, and a lot of that is power play driven. That isn’t necessarily
great, but the good power play performers over the last four years have production
around four points per 60 minutes or better on the 5v4, so it’s not as if we
should expect a cataclysmic drop for certain players. But even at even strength
the Oilers were getting more out of Yak, Eberle, and Hall with Nelson as the
The most dramatic change was with Nail Yakupov. He went from
a third line player who was on pace for 21 points to a bonafide second
line player scoring at a 46 point pace. Todd Nelson probably saved this kid’s
career. He looks like a player back on track to being a top six forward. A 25
point difference in production, if we extrapolate the splits over 82 games, is
about as stark as you can get.
Slightly less “dramatic” but with an even greater difference
in points over 82 games was Jordan Eberle. A 77 point season is top 10 in NHL
scoring. Indeed if we look at all teams from the time Nelson took over in late
December, Eberle is 8th in NHL scoring.
Todd Nelson unshackled the kids. Let’s also keep in mind
these changes occurred with a blueline that had difficulty moving the puck out
of its own zone and back up the ice. It’s not easy for the forwards to generate
a lot of points when they’re hemmed in their own zone all the time or taking
passes in the skates from Fayne or Aulie.
In this tale of two seasons there are a lot more positives
that came from the Nelson portion than the Eakins. While a couple players in
Purcell and Schultz actually dropped in productivity, their peers all saw a
boost. And Hall’s PP numbers are so low under Nelson that there’s almost no way
they don’t rebound.
When we dream of the Oilers somehow pulling themselves out
from the bottom of the basement there obviously needs to be an influx of talent
on defense and in net, but at least with the players under contract there
was improvement within this past season.
Over 82 games we’re talking about an additional 80 points
between all the players listed above — 80! That is unfathomable. The Oilers have
something going with Todd Nelson and I know they want to keep their options
open in hopes that a good team fires their great head coach, but I won’t shed a
tear if the interim tag gets taken off of Nelson and he gets to run this team
the way he sees fit.